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One thing people love to think about is the great technology that scientists of the future will develop.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a series of French artists drew paper cards that envisioned what the world would look like in the year 2000.  Among other things, these postcards portray schoolchildren being taught by a machine that’s being stuffed with books, a fully mechanized orchestra at the opera, and no shortage of flying machines.  They look very goofy, but actually aren’t too far off: in the 115+ years since these were created we’ve developed the Internet, iTunes, and airplanes.  The point of this, however, is that people love to envision what future technologies will look like.  I recently read a post on the “Healthcare Guy” blog, discussing what innovations the author thinks will shape the healthcare industry in 50 years.  Of course, the article was written several years ago, but still, a lot of the trends they’re discussing remain relevant.  

In the first 50 years of computing, we’ve been digitizing plenty of aspects of human activity, such as administration, engineering, finance, news, literature, and retail.  These have made life infinitely more efficient, but in the next 50 years we should be able to digitize biology through genomics, chemistry through early detection systems, and physics through improved simulations.  If this sounds far-fetched, it’s already happened.  For example, search engines already offer a “Dr. Google”, but in the future tech will make medical knowledge even more accessible to the average patient without even having to book an appointment.  

The author of the post outlined a few other ideas for what the world of healthcare technology will look like.  There are a couple of points they argued that are pretty feasible: the upcoming decades, for example, improved technology will be able to drastically reduce the margin of error in research, and machines will be able to recognize and diagnose ailments with astounding accuracy.  Improved diagnostics can also be used to create significantly improved therapeutics, even personalized drugs.  There could be, the author argues, advanced diagnostics capabilities of genetics and proteomics that will be able to create artificial body simulators, allowing researchers to more accurately understand the side effects of drugs, and possibly eliminate the need of animal testing.  

A lot of this sounds farfetched for sure, and ultimately in the end imagining what technology will look like is a lot different from actually making that technology will look like.  But at the same time, think about how far technology has gone in the past 20 years.  The idea of a cell phone, let alone one with ready access to the Internet and a whole other slew of services, was pretty amazing.  Even social media, which has completely revolutionized our lives today, didn’t even exist.  And when you consider that, such technological advances don’t seem nearly as far away.  

But what about risks?  Most likely the biggest will be centered around regulations, privacy, and security.  With technology developing at such a rapid pace, developing regulations based around the industry, let alone ones that can stay relevant in the face of various technological advances, will be tough.  Even now, the questions about security are raising major issues, and security breaches pose potentially disastrous consequences.  In the future, as more and more aspects of our everyday lives become digitized, these breaches will be that much more damaging, and will need to be controlled.  But these technological advances have huge potential, and if these potential issues can be handled, then the future looks bright.